Down but not out

Shiv Sena leader Aaditya Thackeray waves at supporters during a public rally, at Malharpeth village in Satara district.

Shiv Sena leader Aaditya Thackeray waves at supporters during a public rally, at Malharpeth village in Satara district. | Photo Credit: PTI

By stunning everyone with his intra-party putsch and by forming the government with Devendra Fadnavis’ BJP with his rebel faction of 50 MLAs, Eknath Shinde caused Uddhav Thackeray’s Sena faction to lie prostrate. Mr. Thackeray struggled to control the exodus within his party, with 12 of the 19 Sena Lok Sabha MPs moving over to the Shinde camp. But Aaditya Thackeray has risen to the occasion. His cadre outreach campaign, the ‘Shiv Samvad Yatra’, has drawn a groundswell of support from the party rank and file across Maharashtra. As both rival factions slug it out in the Supreme Court over control of the party, the younger Thackeray has been making efforts not just to challenge the 50 rebel MLAs of the Shinde camp, but to expand the Sena well beyond its traditional pockets of Mumbai, Thane, Konkan and a part of Marathwada.

Party grapevine is that while he is being groomed as the next working president of the Sena, his brother, Tejas Thackeray, will be assigned a formidable role soon. Already, there is clamour from the young Shiv Sainiks to make Mr. Tejas Thackeray the Yuva Sena chief. Sena founder Bal Thackeray had referred to the youngest Thackeray as having taken after him, with his “sharp brains” and “aggressive spirit.” Recently, Mr. Uddhav Thackeray’s confidante Milind Narvekar referred to Mr. Tejas Thackeray as the “Viv Richards of the Sena”.

The Shinde camp’s revolt has created a vacuum which Mr. Aaditya Thackeray hopes to exploit by giving youthful faces a chance in the constituencies held by the rebel Sena MLAs. A wide field of opportunity has opened with many youths already being appointed to responsible positions in many taluks. His rallies, particularly in Mumbai, Thane, Aurangabad and the Konkan, saw an overwhelming turnout, with a large number of young Sainiks vowing to ‘topple’ the rebel MLAs in future elections. In fact, even in Pune, where the Sena has a nominal presence, a massive crowd smashed the car of a rebel Sena leader, Uday Samant, as a sign that the old Sena aggression was alive and kicking.

Meanwhile, despite the BJP making him Chief Minister, Mr. Shinde has had to summon all his sangfroid to keep the aspirations of his rebel faction in check. Many of the rebel Sena MLAs have served more than four terms on average. This has meant few opportunities for political advancement among their younger colleagues in these constituencies. Keeping his faction happy has meant some hard bargaining with the BJP, as evinced by Mr. Shinde’s frequent visits to Delhi. There have already been rumblings of dissent within the rebel camp. While Aurangabad MLA Sanjay Shirsat, a key face of the revolt, has been sulking for not being given a Cabinet berth, Abdul Sattar, another influential leader from Aurangabad, was reportedly threatening to leave the rebel camp if he was not inducted. He was eventually sworn in as a Minister. The 11 independent MLAs who supported Mr. Shinde are also upset at not being given Cabinet berths.

In his rallies, Mr. Aaditya Thackeray has said the government will soon fall as the “traitors” bicker over positions. Crediting Mr. Uddhav Thackeray’s astute helmsmanship in steering Maharashtra out of COVID-19, the young Thackeray has stressed the Sena’s bent towards ‘social service’ rather than crass political gain. In many ways, his rallies mark a return to the brass tacks when the party was expanding in the late 1960s and 1970s. Whether or not the support on the ground translates into votes for the Thackeray faction in 2024, Mr. Shinde will have to reckon with Mr. Aaditya Thackeray’s ‘Sena 2.0’ in the near future.

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Printable version | Sep 9, 2022 9:17:56 am |